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Marie Griffin, the chief executive of County Dublin VEC, the school patron body charged with running five new multi-denominational primary schools, has defended the religious education scheme used by the schools from accusations that it “segregates” children.
And she said that those who accused the new schools of “segregating young children on sectarian grounds”, were engaged in “a mischievous and pejorative use of language”.
Writing in Monday's Irish Times, she said: “All parents of children in primary schools are aware that children are separated for many reasons during the school’s day. Children often work in changing groups; they move classes for special education, resource support, English support, music, sport, art, literacy etc. Why is this not “segregation”?”
Reports last week suggested that the Catholic Church had negotiated in secret with the Department of Education to impose a segregated religious education system upon the new schools.
Fr Michael Drumm, the head of the Catholic Schools Partnership and the Council for Education of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference strongly rejected the contention.
Griffin also rejected the suggestion, saying that the new community national school (CNS) model was “put in place to provide a multi-belief programme for children of all faiths and none during the school day, in accordance with parents’ wishes”.
She said: “As State schools, CNS schools cannot, and would not, privilege one religion over another, despite the recent distortion in the media after an incorrect interpretation of historical documents.”
Referring to suggestions that religious instruction should be moved to the private sphere and become an extracurricular activity attached to the school day, she said such a move “would not create a 'neutral', religion-free zone in schools as the dominant ethos would then be non-religious”.
Recent census data, she said, showed that “the vast majority of people, over 92 per cent, describe themselves as having some form of religious affiliation, with many more forms of belief than has historically been the case in Ireland”.
“Surely, a schooling that engages children of religious and non-religious backgrounds in a multi-belief programme is meeting the wishes of parents rather than a totally non-religious approach,” she added.
She said: “The VEC sector, as a democratically constituted and community- based, publicly funded State education system, has always sought to prepare students for effective citizenship. Nurturing children in the fullest sense, including acknowledging their belief background, and providing a multi-belief religion programme is a part of this preparation.
In respect of the debate over patronage, Griffin said that it was important a number of models were available since all parents would not “want their children to move from a religious model to a non-religious one”.